Guardian Watches Over Force Alignment
Planning and logistics system monitors readiness of units, equipment and individuals.
The U.S. Air National Guard is using a data mining and analysis tool to keep track of everything from jet engines to personnel qualifications. The software package allows users to access and compile information from a variety of sources, offering the ability to conduct high-level analysis or in-depth study of a specific unit’s readiness. The technology will soon enter service with the U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Launched as a Web-based logistics tool to track equipment and parts, the Air National Guard Information Analysis Network (GUARDIAN) program has evolved into a sophisticated information-retrieval tool that provides users with real-time readiness data. According to Randy Headrick, chief information officer, Air National Guard,
In its first two years of use, GUARDIAN served as a logistics trends analysis tool. This role changed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. With the increased operational tempo to support missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, later versions of the software began to provide real-time mission readiness data, explains Michael McCarthy, GUARDIAN program manager, Dynamics Research Corporation, Washington, D.C. “We need to know things like how many aircraft we have serviceable—how many aircraft we can deploy and their specialties. Do they [personnel] have the training they need? Do we have the equipment ready to go?” he says.
The system shifted rapidly from providing monthly and quarterly reports to supplying weekly, daily and near-real-time updates. For example, after September 11, the Air National Guard began using GUARDIAN to track daily information on aircraft status and engines. McCarthy notes that even Air Force legacy systems had difficulty tracking these aircraft components.
Over the past two years, the software’s scope has expanded to feature mission operations data, communications and electronics systems updates, manpower reports, medical updates, and civil engineering information. While GUARDIAN taps data from a variety of sources, its designers sought to provide the information in a new and intuitive fashion. “We use data they [Guard personnel] already have. We just give them another way to look at it,” Headrick explains.
McCarthy shares that many of the systems from which data is pulled are not individually user-friendly. These databases often require passwords and other identification to access the information. For example, access to Air Force personnel systems is often limited to Air National Guard personnel office staff. Unit commanders seeking personnel information have to go through that office. GUARDIAN pulls this information into a data warehouse where Air National Guardsmen can gain access through the software interface.
Data is arranged by functional area, such as logistics, civil engineering, communications and operations. When users click on a subject button, the interface prompts them for additional information. Once the user clicks on logistics, the site asks if the user is interested in munitions, aircraft, training, supply or communications information. The program then directs the user through the steps to access the requested data. “That’s where it really gets ANG [Air National Guard]-centric, because it already has defined who all the users are. In other words, you couldn’t ask for the cargo aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base because the Air National Guard doesn’t have any there. But if you asked for fighters, it would say, ‘Here is where all the fighters are,’” McCarthy explains.
Because it is a Web-based application, GUARDIAN operates like a browser. When users enter the home page, they can access a news bulletin area where new system upgrades and applications are listed. The program also has a built-in help function, a messaging function that sends system updates to a list of known users and the ability to export documents in commercial software formats such as Microsoft Excel and Word.
Users can provide feedback through online forums. McCarthy notes that these events allow users to express their opinions about current features and to request applications. “The world is evolving so fast that some of GUARDIAN’s features that were the latest and greatest two years ago are already becoming passé. There are always opportunities to upgrade all the time. We’re definitely user-driven in that sense,” he says.
Training is another example of GUARDIAN’s functionality. The Air National Guard sends more than 25,000 personnel annually to active duty training courses. These classes cover areas such as skills upgrades and occupational specialty courses. McCarthy notes that the Air National Guard used to initiate this process by contacting all of its units across the country and requesting them to provide an estimate of their annual training needs. This effort was time-intensive. Unit training managers had to collect varied information that ranged from the skills units had trained in the previous year to the number of personnel who were joining and leaving a unit. “We pulled all that together in an online format to give training managers all the tools they needed to do an accurate training forecast,” he explains.
Knowledge management is an important aspect of GUARDIAN’s design because it keeps GUARDIAN in line with the Air Force’s knowledge management services, McCarthy says. The Air National Guard’s charter mandates compatibility with active duty Air Force capabilities, and the GUARDIAN program works closely with the Air Force to ensure that its new modules are compatible with the service’s source data, he adds.
Although GUARDIAN can access Air Force systems, it is designed to meet the unique needs of the Air National Guard. For example, Headrick explains that the two organizations have different criteria for tracking personnel. “In the Air Force, the default mode is that you’re on duty. You’re being paid. The default mode in the Reserve and the Guard is that you’re not on duty. You have to be ordered to duty. And that’s exactly the opposite,” he says.
Other Guard-specific features include the consideration that state governors are the commanders in chief of their local Guard units. “We have a different set of issues and items we sometimes look at that don’t necessarily fit into some of the active duty Air Force programs,” Headrick observes.
McCarthy notes that the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve are in discussions with the Air National Guard to share some of GUARDIAN’s capabilities. The goal is to combine Air Force and Reserve data systems some time in 2006. The software also will undertake a major implementation with the U.S. Army National Guard in fiscal year 2006.
In addition, GUARDIAN is part of a program to coordinate the National Guard with law enforcement and civil defense agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program’s data mining and knowledge management-based capabilities will be exported to state and federal agencies. “If we’ve got airmen trained in chemical decontamination and they’re in the database, then FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] or other agencies can go to the governor and ask how many of these people are available and what their training levels are to help with a cleanup effort. By using GUARDIAN, you can get a snapshot of their status and what they’re trained in very quickly,” Headrick says.
The Dynamics Corporation developed an application that allows FEMA to search for available National Guard resources and equipment to support disaster relief operations. McCarthy explains that this system provides much of the same information available on GUARDIAN, but in a nonmilitary format useful to civilian agencies. The software with homeland security features became operational in September.
The new capability is part of the Joint Combined State Strategic Plan. In addition to traditional national defense applications, this initiative provides the National Guard with a mechanism to report to state governors and to support their needs.
Another concern for GUARDIAN developers is maintaining information security between civil and military government agencies. The goal of Dynamic’s GUARDIAN effort is to keep the look and feel of the military system—allowing it to be used by other Defense Department agencies for classified applications—but to make an unclassified version accessible to state agencies also.
McCarthy explains that consideration for civilian agencies is reflected in the latest GUARDIAN module. Information available to civil agencies provides states with an idea of available resources without describing their readiness. “We would tell them [state agencies] what vehicles, equipment, munitions and types of personnel are available, but not necessarily that a unit is currently 80 percent manned or that some equipment is currently 50 percent serviceable,” he says.